Unbeaten in three and coming off of an emphatic home win against the LA Galaxy, the Portland Timbers' 2017 season has new life. On Saturday, it will get one of its biggest single-game tests yet: A date with Supporters' Shield-leading Toronto FC at BMO Field (3:00 p.m., TV on ROOT Sports).
It's a big ask of the Timbers. Toronto hasn't lost a home game in ten months and has only lost three times all season.
The meeting between the Timbers and Toronto at Providence Park on the first of May last year was one of the games of the 2016 MLS season — a thrilling, back-and-forth affair that saw the Timbers, despite Will Johnson's best efforts, claim a 2-1 win behind a stupendous goalkeeping display from Jake Gleeson and a fabulous game-winning free kick goal from Diego Valeri.
The Timbers' recent history in Ontario, however, has not been so rosy. Portland dropped a 2015 decision at BMO Field 1-0, and saw their playoff hopes unravel there in 2014 in a game that started with Johnson's gruesome leg break.
Portland is winless in four trips to Toronto dating back to the Timbers' second-ever MLS game in 2011. The Timbers' only result against the Reds at BMO came in a 2-2 draw in 2012 — a year in which TFC finished with the fewest points in the league and won just five of its 34 games.
With Johnson now in Orlando, the main link between these two clubs has been severed. Johnson captained the Timbers from 2013 through 2015, while he was part of the TFC team that last season won the Eastern Conference only to fall in MLS Cup on their home turf against the Seattle Sounders.
The Timbers, more or less fully healthy last weekend against LA, predictably won't be fully healthy this weekend in Toronto.
Fanendo Adi and Liam Ridgewell both exited the Galaxy game early with minor injuries and are questionable heading into Saturday, Adi having tweaked his hamstring and Ridgewell having re-aggrevated the quad injury that saw him miss eight games across June and July.
If Adi — and especially Ridgewell — are borderline, they likely won't make the trip. The Timbers aren't going to sell out to try to win cross-conference game against a team of TFC's quality, especially with two home games looming to finish off the month.
If Ridgewell is out, the defense will line itself up. Roy Miller is suspended, so Lawrence Olum will slot in at center back with Vytas re-entering the lineup at left back. But if Adi is out, Caleb Porter will have an interesting decision to make up top.
Darren Mattocks is the senior player, but Jeremy Ebobisse is the future — and Ebobisse has almost certainly earned another start with what the performance he dialed up in Vancouver three weeks ago.
Toronto, meanwhile, is fully healthy and having some kind of season. Greg Vanney's team co-owns the league's best goal differential, is atop the Supporters' Shield race, is unbeaten at home, and has a cadre of lethal attacking players led by Giovinco.
TFC is in the conversation for best MLS team ever. The Timbers, bless their hearts and despite their many attributes, decidedly aren't. They're longshots tomorrow.
90 - Gleeson
5 - Vytas
13 - Olum
33 - Mabiala
2 - Powell
21 - Chara
20 - Guzman
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri (C)
10 - Blanco
17 - Ebobisse
The Timbers have historically under Porter — and indeed this year, the draw at Houston two weeks ago serving as a primary example — gotten results at difficult places to play. But no one is beating full-strength TFC this year. Toronto wins 3-1.